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Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Ten Reasons to Vote

October 26th, 2020 by dk
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If you’re a registered voter in Oregon, you received the Voters’ Pamphlet last week. (At 168 pages, can we really call it a “pamphlet?”) Ballots will arrive this week. The question asked too often is this: “Why should I bother to vote, when Oregon’s electoral votes will not be in dispute?”

Let me give you ten reasons that you should bother to vote.

1. It’s a mercifully small bother. Other Americans will stand in line for hours to vote. Our hassle will be finding a blue or black pen in our kitchen junk drawer. It’s worth taking a few minutes to vote, if only to reflect on how good we’ve got it.

2. It’s a good habit. Skipping this election because your actions won’t alter the outcome is like not brushing your teeth on the day before your dentist appointment. It won’t change the immediate consequence, but the habit will.

3. There’s more on the ballot. Oregon pioneered the voter initiative more than a century ago. Oregonians make some government decisions directly. We should take that responsibility seriously. You may have no opinion yet about psilocybin. You may not even know how to pronounce it. Now is a good time to learn.

4. We’re the Vote-By-Mail poster child. Citizens and lawmakers in other states watch us and wonder whether they should follow our lead. Showing that Vote-By-Mail is easy and fraud-free is an important message conveyed by our collective actions.

5. Our turnout rate should make us proud. Very few states see a larger percentage of its eligible citizens voting. They say that if you don’t vote, then you can’t complain. We complain a lot in Oregon. Voting is important to our state’s culture.

6. And that’s not because we reserve voting for the highly motivated. No other state makes it easier to get registered to vote. Since 2016, most new residents have had to worker harder to NOT be registered to vote. Unless they specifically opt-out, they are registered to vote when they get their driver’s license.

7. Down-ballot races also matter. Even if the presidential race will not be contested in 2020, candidates for other races will be on the ballot. Each name you see printed on the ballot is watching what you’ll do — even the uncontested races. Judges pay attention to their “undervote” (the number of returned ballots who left their race blank).

8. Our voter turnout is tracked earlier than others’. Since we’ve perfected our method of voting and our history is robust, our Secretary of State announces daily how the turnout so far compares with past elections. Unlike polling results, our numbers are real and beyond dispute.

9. Oregon could play a role in a “Centrist Tsunami.” If others around the country learn that Oregonians are voting in huge numbers, they may follow. Strong turnout in swing districts will bring more centrists (from both parties) into the national government. We need that.

10. Fill in the blank. You’ve probably noticed some reason that I’ve overlooked. Fill it here and share it with me.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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In Defense of Gossip

October 25th, 2020 by dk
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I’ve been thinking about gossip lately. I’m in favor of it. Our world might be better if gossip didn’t occur, except that it would be a world without humans, or without those we recognize as human.

We’ve banned gossip from polite circles and congratulated ourselves for it, but our efforts improved nothing. We were better off when we talked about one another, even clumsily or with occasional malice. Instead, we talk only about ourselves or we don’t talk to others at all. Both of these alternatives are worse, in my book.

When people freely repeated whatever they heard, listeners had to learn to discriminate. They considered the source. They didn’t believe everything they heard, because they understood that not all sources are equally reliable. They learned to trust a few, while always remaining vigilant.

People were prepared and equipped to handle conflicting reports. Faced with opposing views of equal merit, they’d ask around. As they gathered more details, they’d collect information that wasn’t relevant to the immediate case, but foundational for the next one.

Communities used gossip to become reticulated, interwoven, close-knit. People didn’t keep to themselves, because they couldn’t afford to. Literally, they needed help from others to survive. But also figuratively, they knew that depriving neighbors access would create more chatter than it prevented.

It’s true that people say hurtful things when gossip is not disallowed. Gossip sometimes makes a bad thing worse. But it forces people to talk to one another — to promote, defend, or rebut. The words we use to express and resolve conflict have been replaced with sticks and stones. They break bones.

We overlook nuance when we bar gossip outright. It’s the junk food of conversation. Good people don’t indulge the urge too often. The goal is to resist the urge, not to remove the temptation. Gossip may be necessary in a connected world, but it’s not a good hobby or habit. Gossip is OK. Gossipers are not.

Those who gossip constantly find themselves with fewer friends. More importantly, they worry what others are saying about them. We’ve lost this healthy sort of shaming, where the community casts judgment on an individual. Self-shaming is a recent invention and not at all preferable.

A few centuries ago, no one would have ever told another, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” It would have made no sense. Shaming and shunning was done by the group to correct the individual. This mended the rifts in the community that gossip would occasionally cause and often reveal.

When people talk about one another, even behind their backs and with incomplete or wrong information, communities can be self-correcting. Isn’t that better than the sullen separation that we endure instead? Loneliness and depression are rampant across our land, partly because we think we shouldn’t talk about one another.

I’d rather we do it badly than not at all. If we have the courage that flows from good character, we’ll tell the person directly what we’ve said to others about them. I expect to hear from courageous readers, sharing what they think of me for suggesting this.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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How Trump Hatched His Success Story

October 16th, 2020 by dk
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Most of us have somebody (living or dead) we wish we could ask about President Donald Trump. Yours might be a Founding Father or your actual father. Mine is Richard Hatch, the star and winner of the first season of “Survivor” in 2000. Hatch was portrayed as a shrewd scoundrel, manipulating (or was it outsmarting?) the other contestants to win the $1 million prize.

He and “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett pioneered the anti-hero persona for so-called “reality TV.” They proved that large numbers of Americans — 54 million viewers — will follow a character they love to hate. Evil geniuses were not new, but they had always been safely ensconced in fiction, where they could do no real harm to real people. Television executives were surprised that viewers obsessed over what scheme Hatch might hatch next.

One viewer who was particularly enthralled was Donald Trump. (He admitted as much  to Hatch in 2011.) In 2000, Trump didn’t worry that he wasn’t rich enough. He did worry that he wasn’t famous enough. Feeding red meat to New York tabloids couldn’t build his national brand. 

Howard Stern and syndicated radio couldn’t make Trump a household name. Only television could do that, but Trump wasn’t likable enough or handsome enough. Then came Richard Hatch to show the way. Trump and Burnett followed that template to  craft Trump’s 2004 TV persona. He would play a rich and powerful scoundrel boss, one who finishes every meeting by telling somebody, “You’re fired!”

Hatch himself was one of Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” contestants in 2011. Not long after that, Trump built a new strategy for greater fame. He’d run for president. He’d use President Obama as his foil, just as Hatch used the lovable-but-naive Rudy.

Trump trademarked “Make America Great Again” the day after Obama won a second term in 2012. Trump used profanity the same way Hatch used nudity, knowing what broadcasters would and wouldn’t show in their final cut. Remember the pirouettes done to avoid repeating Trump’s assessment of “shithole countries”? We’re less innocent now.

What does Richard Hatch think of how Trump mimics his “Survivor” character? I tracked him down in Rhode Island to find out. “He is an utterly deluded, impotent, and incompetent man whose facade is much more fragile than he understands,” Hatch told me. Even Hatch’s four dogs see nothing good in Trump.

Hatch doesn’t think Trump is smart enough to sustain his schtick. “[I’m] grateful he is pathetically unsophisticated and incapable of maintaining his unraveling reign.” Hatch credits “a trove of sycophants — themselves short-sighted and desperately in search of power” with keeping Trump’s charade going.

Reality will eventually intervene. “Trump’s presence has been horribly destructive, and I fear we will not course-correct quickly enough.,” he reflected, noting we need “to build life-preserving mechanisms to keep incompetent, abusive dolts from positions of power … before we destroy ourselves.”

And if we don’t?…

“If Americans are unable to reconcile Trump’s impact and our worldwide decline (unlikely, since most Americans lack any objective world perspective), I believe the road ahead will be bumpy and relatively short.”

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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GOP strategy: oppress, depress, suppress

October 1st, 2020 by dk
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I have written about this before, but as it comes more starkly into view, it bears repeating. Republicans and President Trump have a cogent strategy for November. Contrary to what you’ve been told, most registered voters are currently “undecided.”

It’s true that almost all voters have decided which candidate most deserves their vote. But that’s not the only decision they are making between now and Nov. 3. They may well know how they will vote but not whether they will vote.

No presidential candidate in the past century has been endorsed by as many eligible voters as the couch of apathy. Eligible non-voters have outnumbered every winning tally since 1904. That’s quite a winning streak. Or call it a losing streak for America. You wouldn’t be wrong.

Republican strategy aims to capitalize on and continue this trend. They believe they can win. All they need to do is oppress, depress and suppress voters and votes.

Oppress. To take just one of dozens of examples, Florida voted in 2018 to restore voting rights for felons after they have served their sentences. The Republican state legislature rewrote the rule to include any outstanding civil penalties, even though the state hasn’t tracked those debts effectively. Republicans revived debtor prisons. Activists responded with gofundme campaigns.

Reformers organized fundraising drives to help these former felons pay their outstanding debts. Again, Republicans swung into action, accusing the do-gooders of buying votes, even though there was no requirement whether or how these re-enfranchised citizens should vote.

Depress. Now that early voting is underway for a large portion of the country, strategists must convince citizens that voting won’t be worth the trouble. Who didn’t have a headache after watching this week’s so-called presidential debate? Few would call it a debate, and no one would call it presidential.

For every eligible voter who has now given up on politics, Republicans can congratulate themselves for a job well done. If enough people come away from the process believing “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference” between the parties and the candidates, that’s change that won’t be spent and change that won’t happen.

Trump’s ongoing attack on vote-by-mail fits this strategy with surprising elegance. First, it rewards procrastination. Even with a rampaging pandemic, it might be “safer” to vote in person on Election Day, just to be sure. Long lines and busy days can then do the rest. Leaving nothing to chance, Trump told his militia-style supporters to “stand back and stand by.”

Suppress. This week’s debate was violently disruptive. Election Day may follow suit, because important protections have been removed. Republicans got caught employing various dirty tricks under the guise of “ballot security” in 1982. Courts have exerted oversight on Republicans’ Election Day operations through a consent decree ever since.

That consent decree was lifted in 2018. Voter intimidation plans can now proceed unabated. Armed vigilantes at polling places may not be prevented for the first time in 40 years. Did Trump have this in mind when he told Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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Gaming RBG’s Replacement

September 24th, 2020 by dk
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Nobody knows how replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court will go. But here are a handful of spun scenarios to show how it could go.

Don’t be distracted by details that don’t matter. And don’t lose sight of a few seemingly unrelated matters that will definitely tip the calculus of the key players in this drama.

There are 434 members of the House of Representatives and 99 Senators who don’t matter. How this plays out is up to three, and only three, people: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Donald Trump. Assume each knows more than we think they do.

In normal times (Remember those?), a Supreme Court nomination is only about itself. The power of a lifetime appointment drowns out any other considerations. But these are not normal times. Decisions and strategies rotate around the dark matter of this November’s election. Ignore the denials. Politicians rarely admit to considering politics.

Other factors complete the constellation being considered by Pelosi, McConnell and Trump. In chronological order: a stopgap spending bill, the next COVID stimulus package, filling John McCain’s seat permanently, counting the November votes, and the latest challenge to Obamacare.

Make no mistake. Pelosi could have shut down large parts of the government next week if she had wanted to. Government funding was scheduled to run out at midnight on September 30.

It wouldn’t have stopped the Senate from meeting and confirming a new Supreme Court justice, but she could have shown in stark relief that nothing else matters to the Republicans. Funding is scheduled now to extend until December 11. The unanswered question is what concessions did Pelosi receive for her acquiescence?

Pelosi knows very well that Trump wishes he could be talking about another batch of COVID relief checks (with his name on them) at rallies. Something happened to prevent that political deal from coming together. What? Pelosi knows, even if we don’t.

What McConnell knows better than anyone is how to count votes. He may have one fewer in late November. Voters will decide on November 4 whether Sen. Martha McSally keeps her Arizona Senate seat. If Democratic challenger Mark Kelly wins what is technically a special election, he could join the Senate as early as November 30.

Why wouldn’t McConnell delay any vote until after the election? A lame duck confirmation would give his vulnerable Senators some breathing room. He may still do that, but that’s not the current talking point. Again, assume he knows what we don’t.

The Supreme Court will have a busy November. If the election is close, there may be a half-dozen Florida-style recounts to administer and adjudicate. Having a clear majority (without relying on Chief Justice John Roberts) in those chaotic days would be handy for Republicans.

And then there’s the latest court challenge to Obamacare, scheduled for oral argument on November 10, one week after Election Day. Republicans want to  erase Obama’s legacy. Strip everything else away and this may be Republicans’ long-term plan — even if that plan ends with Joe Biden becoming President in January.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Everyday Trauma Afflicts Many

September 23rd, 2020 by dk
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Many are still reeling from the tragedy upriver that befell so many of us two weeks ago. And by “reeling,” I mean turning in small circles, faster and faster. Each of us has had to make space for the sadness to measure what’s lost, but the world around us continues apace. This week I had to shut off the power to my house that is no longer there.

Sometimes our belongings, and almost always our homes, become part of our identity. When that aspect of our identity is no longer true, how do we not become a lesser version of ourselves? When I talk about — or even think about — my tiny house, or my neighbors, or the community around it, which verb tense should I use?

The present tense is mindless, but the past tense is heartless. Future perfect continuous fits best, but what help will that have been? You see the problem?  It’s not a natural state. Normal methods of coping tend to fail.

I’m still struggling to sequence things correctly. It takes effort to notice and care when things fall out of order. “Does it really matter? And if it does, why? (Or did I ask those questions out of order?)” The power company can’t shut off my power without knowing what my address will have been, if events arrange themselves generously and I rebuild.

Everyone I know was delighted to welcome the rain last week, and even the thunderstorms that brought the much-needed precipitation. But when the lightning and thunderclap coincided, I woke with a start, convinced from my slumber that the roof over my head was being struck by lightning. One of my Blue River neighbors told me the next day that she had exactly the same reaction!

Here’s my point — or what will have been my point, two minutes from now.

McKenzie River residents are experiencing a specific trauma related to the tragedies that converged into the Holiday Farm fire. It’s making us peculiar to others, but similar to one another. Our suffering soon will have passed. That’s fortunate for us. Before too long, we will have rejoined your ranks.

Now consider those who are very poor or unhoused or otherwise oppressed. Their trauma is not unlike ours — except that it’s accepted and unending. There is no future perfect continuous envisioned for them, but all the same handicaps apply.

Can they imagine a future time when they won’t be poor? Many can’t. They are poor and they will be poor — continuously, and not perfectly. They can’t fill out the forms for assistance correctly — they can’t help themselves — because they get things out of order. They aren’t lesser than us. They have burdens we don’t understand.

Trauma hijacks your sanity. If it’s for a short time, we make amends. When it’s continuous with no end in sight, it’s debilitating. Their identity is not less than yours and mine, but they have fewer attachments to ground them.

How do we care for the most vulnerable among us? That’s the one question I wish that someday we will have answered.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) will have written a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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How Disinformation Works (on You)

September 19th, 2020 by dk
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We have misspent four years trying to catch or conceal the culprits who disrupted our last presidential election. We haven’t learned enough about how disinformation was used to manipulate us. “Us” is not a reference to other people. Their targets include you and me. We’ve done too little to understand how their techniques affect us.

Hacking certainly happened in 2016. Senior aides had embarrassing emails stolen and published, fueling dissent between Democrats. Election records and tabulating machinery were targeted, even if they didn’t alter any outcomes.

They sought to sow distrust in our systems. And they succeeded. The real impact of their meddling has not been detected for one simple reason. It hasn’t happened yet. But it will. Very soon.

While our president has been denying there were any outside influences, he works from the inside to achieve the same goal. Citizens increasingly hate others who see things differently and doubt authorities and institutions.

Will the upcoming election be rigged? Will its outcome produce violent reactions? This administration answers yes, with little equivocation. It’s not inevitable, but it’s also not unlikely. Our democracy and self-governance has never been so imperiled.

That’s the who, what, when and why of this disinformation attack. But what about the most significant variable? Where, exactly, does this battle take place? Inside our heads and hearts — yours and mine. No one is immune.

Consider Facebook, but know that it applies to every other social media outlet as well.

You receive a friend request from somebody you don’t know or know well. It may be a real person, a stolen identity, or an invented persona. You accept, because it feels good to have more friends or followers. And then you forget about it.

Months later, you post something that expresses frustration with Oregon’s governor or Portland’s protests or any other hot-button issue. Suddenly, hundreds have “liked” your post — mostly friends of your friends. You feel popular and powerful. So you start posting more often on similar topics.

Facebook’s algorithm begins highlighting these posts to more of your actual friends, because a troll farm has boosted their predictive “engagement” score. Responding to nothing except the urges inside you, you express stronger opinions and link to others doing the same.

Old friends note the change, but they get shouted down by your new “friends.” Unconsciously, you begin to sever the connections you had before Facebook’s algorithm controlled what you see.

What you see looks like the news, but always with a slant that mirrors your own. Contrary views are hidden, except when disparaged by your “friends.”

Bit by bit, you absorb information and adopt opinions that play well with a new crowd you know only online. Meanwhile, your flesh-and-blood friends feel alienated from you — unless they haven’t noticed because the same transformation is being done to them.

Back-and-forth dialogue is reduced. Opinions change less frequently. We stop looking for common ground, because we can always find others who will agree with us. We love this virtual world and our place in it. We won’t see what we’ve lost until it’s beyond retrieving.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Goodbye, Tiny Blue Spot

September 18th, 2020 by dk
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A friend texted me at 11:39 that Monday night, asking if I was staying in my Blue River tiny house. I wasn’t, but I got more warning than my neighbors upriver received. They escaped shortly after midnight, with nothing but the clothes on their back.

For days we hoped the fire had capriciously skipped over our homes. Once we received a video showing total destruction, denial yielded to disbelief. Brains do weird things when traumatized. I began catastrophizing everything. The simplest tasks felt overwhelming. Every brake light felt like a life-threatening collision was about to happen.

I got confused about what I had lost and what I hadn’t. The confusion then morphed into a strange sort of discontinuity. It showed up mostly when I was drifting off to sleep. “Oh no,” I thought, “those DVDs I took out of the Blue River Library got burned up. I won’t be able to return them.” Never mind the library itself was completely destroyed.

The next night my mind drifted to a special film I had planned to attach to the skylight directly over the bed, creating an iridescent penumbra around the night sky. “No problem, I remember where I bought that film. I can replace it,” forgetting for the moment that the skylight is gone, along with the bed and the house. But not the stars!

I got things out of proportion, out of place, and out of order. My brain was coping as best it could.

I didn’t lose sight of my good fortune. My son had planned a trip upriver that night, but changed his mind because of the heat. I had offered it instead to friends from Chicago, but they decided to camp near Portland before flying home on Tuesday. For me at least, it could have been so much worse. The good memories have only been strengthened.

After 30 years of putting things into words, I wanted to build something indescribable. I had fallen in love with the quirky community of Blue River and I was happy to make a contribution to its spirit. My neighbor, Dale, marveled how people would slow down as they passed my Tiny Blue Spot. He was grateful for that.

Let me pass along a story from 25 years ago that captures the spirit of Blue River. Dale was new to town. He looked out his window one day and saw a large pig ambling by. He dropped what he was doing and followed the pig. A neighbor saw the pig from her porch and silently shrugged.

Just then, another neighbor came down the road. Dale pointed at the pig, which had rolled over to sun himself in the first neighbor’s driveway. “Is that your pig?” he asked the oncoming neighbor. She looked back at him, not at the pig, “Why, is he bothering you?” 

People settle in Blue River to not be bothered, and no strolling swine was going to change that. Friends ask if I will rebuild. I have the plans for the structure, but not for the community. How do you build — much less rebuild — quirk?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Upholding the Public Trust

September 14th, 2020 by dk
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The presidential campaign will consume Americans’ attention for the next two months. Debates begin in less than four weeks. Media companies can do extraordinary work to meet a deadline. They have only a few dozen days to reset their broadcast practices. They must learn new ways to enforce the community standards that inform them.

Broadcasters lease the public airwaves. This arrangement has always required them to uphold certain community standards. A code of ethics was broadly applied to the entire industry. For many years, certain behaviors and words were not allowed over the public airwaves.

This is not censorship. Maintaining standards, understood in advance and applied in all situations, is integral to the public trust. Freedom of speech should have no practical limits, but amplification carries certain responsibilities. If there’s a microphone involved, standards must be upheld.

Even and especially when a speaker won’t abide by the standards, the broadcasters must — even if that speaker is a candidate for or the current president of the United States. Granted, it’s not a good look to be turning off the microphone of the most powerful person on the planet, but decorum shouldn’t eclipse decency.

Broadcasters have tried to uphold standards for truth and honesty, but real-time fact-checking is usually impossible and always ineffective. Debunking a lie requires first repeating it, focusing attention on the false assertion, further amplifying its reach.

Instead, media companies must expand their skill set. They must learn to avert their gaze. Most media companies do not allow reporters and camerapersons to film a premeditated, ongoing crime. They are trained instead to call authorities and do what they can ethically to prevent the crime.

You’ve never seen a hostage-taker negotiate his demands over the public airwaves with a news team inside, broadcasting an “exclusive scoop.” This is why.

I grew up watching the Chicago Cubs play baseball on TV. If a fan jumped onto Wrigley Field and interrupted the game, security would corral and remove the overly exuberant fan. At least that’s what I assume happened, because broadcasters refused to show the intruder scampering across the outfield.

The same lesson applies here.

Republicans made hash of the Hatch Act during their convention. From the White House, their candidate taunted his adversary (and the media) by bragging about their willful violation: “The fact is, we’re here and they’re not.”

Media companies knew in advance that the administration intended to use the White House as a campaign backdrop. Their legal council could have told them the Hatch Act would be violated. If this event amounted to a premeditated crime, they had ample time to inform the campaign that their cameras wouldn’t be attending.

Likewise, debate moderators have time to inform both campaigns about real-time consequences for misbehavior. Both candidates could be given a list of misstatements they have made on the campaign that have been determined to be false or misleading. “Repeat any of these untruths, and your microphone will be turned off for 90 seconds.”

All sides hope for clarity in November. News outlets must demand clarity and reject confusions from the candidates.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Trump is Transactional, and So Are We

September 13th, 2020 by dk
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It should surprise no one that Trump secretly believes that soldiers are “losers” and “suckers,” according to reports printed this week in The Atlantic. Jeffrey Goldberg’s reporting has since been confirmed by several other news outlets.

Goldberg writes about Trump visiting the Arlington National Cemetery with Gen. John Kelly, whose son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. “Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, ‘I don’t get it. What was in it for them?’”

As Americans consider whether to give Trump a second term, it’s incumbent on us to understand something important. His electoral success in 2016 originated in us — all of us. Even those who didn’t vote for him contributed. Together, we created the conditions that brought him success.

Goldberg’s quote reveals those conditions, but Trump wasn’t first to put his finger on it. I heard it first from Oregon’s top political leader, almost 15 years ago.

John Kitzhaber was Oregon’s governor from 1995 until 2003. Term limits forced him to leave the office, but he wasn’t finished. He wanted to continue his work, melding politics with his original career as an emergency room physician. He took some time to reflect on  Oregon’s politics and government before returning to public view.

Kitzhaber advocated an overhaul of Oregon’s health care delivery system. His Archimedes Movement was full of hope for change, years before people knew the name Barack Obama. But his time of reflection about how the machinery of government actually works also brought some despair.

He was trying to build a popular movement around health care reform, because he no longer believed that legislators could do the work themselves. Too many politicians, in his view, had become captive to what he called “transactional politics.” This strain of self-interest had infected the political left as well as the political right.

He could read the thought bubbles above legislators’ heads. It was similar to what Trump said at the gravesite: “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” That virus of transactional self-interest has been virulent for decades. Special interest groups command lawmakers’ attention and control their voting decisions. Kitzhaber called it out in 2007.

It’s not just politics. Our obsession to reduce every interaction to a transaction has poisoned us. We buy on Amazon because it’s cheaper and easier than supporting the shopkeeper who raised his children with our own.

We complain when our driving habits are interrupted by necessary road maintenance because it cost us time or trouble. We ignore a neighbor’s verbal abuses heard through an open window, but get concerned when his overgrown lawn might reduce the neighborhood’s property values.

We vote for people who promise to give us what we want — whether it’s conservative judges or clean water and air. When they can’t deliver on their promises, we look for a new face who promises they know how to succeed where their predecessor failed.

We must view President Trump as someone we didn’t discover so much as invent. He embodies the transactional thinking that has dominated our lives for much too long.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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